Second half surge leads the Cats past USC

Twelve years ago the Pac-10 abandoned their post season tournament with the Wildcats as the three time defending champions. The Conference brought back the tournament this season and Arizona won it again with an 81-71 win over USC. The win is the Wildcats' 12th straight in the event.

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Arizona used a 17-4 run at start of the second half after having a rough start to the game. The Wildcats went away from their 3-2 zone with 5:30 to play in the first half and held USC to just 10 points over the next 10:00.

Arizona struggled with 10 first half turnovers, but rebounded to only lose the ball twice in the second half.

"We took care of the ball well," said associate head coach Jim Rosborough of the second half rally. "We only had two turnovers in the second half. One was an offensive foul on Isaiah (Fox) and the other was when we threw the ball away in the final 17 seconds."

Jason Gardner struggled early and it was Salim Stoudamire who picked up the slack. The freshman scored a career high 29 points, hitting 9-of-10 from the field, including 5-of-6 from behind the arc.

Luke Walton had another impressive all around game to add to his resume. Walton scored 23 points and dished out eight assists, while turning the ball over just one time.

USC showed why they are one of the best defensive teams in the conference. The Trojans forced the wildcats into 10 first half turnovers which they turned into 17 points. Their swarming, attacking defense kept Wildcat All-American Jason Gardner at bay, limiting the point guard to just one point in the first 20:00.

The game opened with a frantic pace and both squads responded. The Trojans brought the defensive pressure and forced Arizona into three quick turnovers. Jerry Dupree responded to his second straight start and was the sparkplug for the Trojans. The junior forward scored the Trojans' first two buckets and blocked two Wildcat shots. An Erik Craven jumper following Dupree's block on Channing Frye gave USC an early 8-6 lead.

The Cats seemed to enjoy the pace the Trojans were setting, especially Salim Stoudamire. The Pac-10 Freshman of the Year knocked down his first four shots, including three three-pointers and scored 11 of the Wildcats' first 11 points.

Both teams scored at a near even pace. With neither team able to get more than a three-point lead in the first 10 minutes.

Walton hit a wide open three that put the Wildcats up 18-16. The Trojans responded with a 15-2 run. Following the Walton make, Sam Clancy came down and made a nice fall-away. Dupree continued his hot hand by driving and going over the much larger Isaiah Fox. Following a pair of Arizona turnovers, Desmon Farmer hit a deep three and Clancy ran the court for an easy lay-up. Walton got a bank shot, but Farmer came and Bluthenthal came on with back-to-back three-pointers that gave USC an 11 point lead, 31-20, with 6:00 to play.

Arizona trailed by as many as 13, but climbed slowly back into the game, outscoring the Trojans 11-6 over the course of the final 5:00 of the half. Despite the success, the Wildcats continued to struggle, missing at least five makeable shots within five feet of the basket. Jason Gardner finally scored his first points of the half, when he made the front end of a one-for-one. The point was the final one of the half and the Wildcats trailed 39-31 at the half.

Arizona came out of the locker room like an entirely different team. They continued to play the man-to-man defense that was so effective at the tail end of the first half. Other than Clancy's two buckets, it was all Arizona over the first 5:00. Arizona scored 13 points and regained the lead, 44-43 on a Rick Anderson leaner.

"They had a game plan and they were aggressive," said Bibby. "In the second half they were physical and thy manhandled us at every position."

After taking the lead, it was all Arizona. The Cats played tenacious defense, holding USC without a field goal for over 6:00. David Bluthenthal's two free throws were USC's lone points as Arizona extended their lead to 52-45 with just under 12:00 to play. Arizona got great work on the boards, especially the work of Isaiah Fox on Clancy. Gardner finally hit a field goal wen he buried a three-pointer from the corner.

One key for the Wildcats was their ability to grab rebounds. in their loss at the Sports Arena, the Cats were woeful on the boards. This time out they outrebounded the Trojans 38-37. Rick Anderson led the team with nine boards and Frye and Fox added seven and eight resprctively.

Henry Bibby finally found an answer to the offensive woes in the form of Desmon Farmer. The USC super-sub came in and sparked USC with five points in the span of 30 seconds. He nailed a three pointer with a charging Frye in his face, then added a bank shot following an offensive rebound. The second shot got The Trojans back within two, trailing just 54-52.

USC had a couple of chances to tie the game, but were unable to knot it up and instead the Wildcats went out on another spurt. Craven had a chance to tie, but missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Wildcats ripped off four straight points. Gardner added back-to-back three point plays, and a Fox put-back gave Arizona a 69-59 lead with just over 4:00 to play.

The Trojans never got it closer than six. Bibby picked up a technical late and Stoudamire sealed the win with an emphatic, one-hand jam.

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